Tuesday, July 20, 2010

David Rudolph on "Paul's Rule"

A paper by Messianic Jewish scholar David J. Rudolph, "Paul's 'Rule in All the Churches' (1 Cor. 7:17-24) and Torah-Defined Ecclesiological Variegation," was featured in the online journal Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. The article is available for free download at http://escholarship.bc.edu/scjr/ (along with a number of other articles of interest). Here's a teaser:
In preparation for this conference, I asked a number of church leaders if they were familiar with Paul’s “rule in all the churches.” Notably, not a single leader who responded to my ad hoc survey was aware of such a rule. Based on this response and my general familiarity with ecclesial theology, I think it is likely that Paul’s “rule in all the churches” has become a “rule in few of the churches” today. While many would probably be content to see this state of affairs continue, especially those who do not like church rules, there remains the nagging question, “Should a teaching that Paul considered important enough to be a universal rule be almost universally neglected by contemporary Christians?”
The aim of this paper is to introduce Paul’s rule to those who are unfamiliar with it, and to make the case that Paul’s rule is a lynchpin that sustains the church as a body of Jews and Gentiles . . .
Read the rest here...


Paula S said...


It seems unfair that you have received no responses (before mine) to Rudolph’s article as you were the first one to make it known on the Messianic blogosphere (as far as I am aware)! In my opinion this paper is one of the most thought provoking I have read in a long time and has been cause for much personal contemplation over the past week. What I find ironic is that although the author’s purpose is to show that a uniquely Torah observant expression of faith in Yeshua was the original intent for Jewish believers within the body, his Ecclesiological Variegation cannot help but step on the toes of those who consider themselves bedfellows with the Bilateral Ecclesiology camp.

For starters, the Divine Invitation model is literally destroyed and rendered unbiblical in light of “Paul’s rule” as interpreted by Rudolph. For DI, in allowing Gentiles to voluntarily take on ritual Torah observance ultimately blurs the distinct calling of the Gentile as uncircumcised and “not under the law”. Despite the fact that this might be done out of “love for G-d” and “love for Israel” a Gentile who takes on such ritual observance practically lives and looks like a Jew.

The universality of Paul’s rule also causes difficulty regarding the practice of Gentile conversion to Messianic Judaism that seems to be gaining notoriety and increased acceptance. How can such a conversion be acceptable in light of a rule that is incumbent upon “all the churches” in which both Jew and Gentile are admonished to remain in their respective life callings? Paul's rule becomes less than universally binding if such conversion is allowable under certain circumstances.

It would seem that if Rudolph’s thesis is correct then the development of the traditional church encompasses HaShem’s will for Gentile believers within the body of Christ. Gentiles’, called to remain in their specific role as uncircumcised and "non-Torah-abiding", would naturally worship in ways separate from their Jewish brethren who have received a different “life calling” (one of being “set apart in identity and manner of life” as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”). The tragic error occurred when the Jews were assimilated into a calling within the body which was never meant for them. One in which a form of Noahidism is lived out with faith in the Jewish Messiah and the circumcision of the heart that this faith produces.

All this is very tricky when it comes to Messianic Gentiles who have tasted the blessings of Torah and the clarity and accountability regarding living for HaShem that it encompasses. The few prominent (former ?) Messianic Gentile bloggers I am aware of who have returned to the church setting are doing so while still maintaining some level of ritual Torah observance. In light of “Paul’s rule” this seems like an oxymoron of sorts, what one might liken to spiritual gender confusion. As a Torah observant Messianic, the Gentile finds himself in a no man’s land between the church and the synagogue. As one who returns to the church while still maintaining some ritual Torah observance the Gentile finds himself simultaneously involved in two callings according to Paul’s rule. “Jack of all trades” and “master of none” in a spiritual sense it would seem.

These are just my initial thoughts regarding Rudolph’s article as I continue to mull over the implications of it. Thank you for presenting it on your blog for others to consider.

Tim Hegg said...

Paula S,

It seems to me that you have hit the nail on the head, at least in mapping out several obvious conclusions that one may derive from Rudolph's paper, namely: If one accepts Rudolph's interpretation of 1Cor 7, then 1) Paul allows no conversion to Judaism, 2) Divine Invitation cannot "work" because it blurs the "callings" when Gentiles accept the "invitation" to keep Torah, and 3) the "Ecclesiological Variegation" really means Gentile believers congregate in their local ekklesia [which is characterized by non-Torah abiding] and Jewish believers congregate in their synagogue [which is characterized by Torah abiding].

My question is how Rudolph can make this "work" in the context of the UMJC which has in place a conversion ritual for Gentile believers in Yeshua, and, according to their own "Definition of Messianic Judaism," they hold that some Gentile believers have a "special calling" to be part of Messianic Judaism.

Yahnatan said...


Thanks for your in depth comment. I'm not convinced that "Paul's Rule" (either the 1 Cor 7 verses or David Rudolph's paper) is "absolute"; but that rather it establishes what is normative...just as remaining uncircumcised was normative in the early church, yet Paul made an exception with Timothy. (Of course we would have to go more in depth on both texts to examine this issue properly...)

I also think your perception of Dr. Rudolph's validation of the traditional church may be correct--however, as views on the traditional church vary widely, I don't want to suggest that David accepts or affirms everything in the "traditional church" as being commendable.

It's been a while since you posted these comments, and I think I read Dr. Rudolph responding to comments on another blog--perhaps you gleaned more insight there?


Yahnatan said...

Tim Hegg,

Thanks for your comment! As I said to Paula, I think it's possible to read "Paul's Rule" as more defining what is normative than as an absolute.

You wrote: My question is how Rudolph can make this "work" in the context of the UMJC which has in place a conversion ritual for Gentile believers in Yeshua...

I believe you're thinking of the MJRC, not the UMJC.


Unknown said...

I suppose that I am thinking more in terms of what actually happens than in the fine print of the minutes of annual meetings. David Rudolph teaches at the MJTI and is a regular contributor to Kesher, the periodical of the UMJC (it is posted on their website). Andrew Sparks is the Editor of Kesher, and also a full member of the MJRC. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I was under the impression that Derek Leman is a Rabbi in the UMJC and leads a UMJC Congregation (Tikvat David) in Roswell, GA. He recently underwent conversion, which seems quite clearly to indicate that the UMJC considers rabbinic conversion to Judaism an acceptable practice. Would the UMJC allow someone to have the title "Rabbi" and lead a congregation within their ranks unless they agreed that his conversion was legitimate?

It seems to me that the UMJC clearly accepts rabbinic conversion even if that organization does not officially endorse conversion. So my question is how they will answer Rudolph, whose article seems to make no provision for conversion.

And while you (Yahnatan) may interpret "Paul's Rule" to be more of a definition of what is normative rather than an absolute, a close reading of Rudolph's paper would indicate that he does not share your interpretation. He takes the word "Rule" to mean just that. A "Rule" is not a suggestion or even a guideline for normative behavior. A "Rule" is that which is either obeyed or disobeyed.

Unknown said...

I signed in with my Google Account (Name: Timothy) rather than my other Sign in with username Tim Hegg. Sorry if that is confusing!